Black Shark 5 Pro Review: Pushing the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 to its hot limits
Black Shark is a gaming smartphone brand that’s been around for a while. It’s backed by Xiaomi (not owned by, as the company fervently reminds the tech community) and typically packs high-end hardware in a more affordable package. Now the Black Shark 5 Pro is here, and it’s more of the same with physical triggers that can be mapped to touch inputs to help your game.
If you’re looking for a powerful smartphone that looks decent, then the Black Shark 5 Pro might well be up your alley. However, it might also be worth waiting for what’s to come after the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 before taking the plunge on a gaming smartphone, as the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 promises to fix a lot of the shortcomings of the preceding flagship chipset.
With the Black Shark 5 Pro, there are a lot of problems that you mightn’t be able to get over, and that includes poor battery life, intense heat, and the lack of a headphone jack. If you’re interested to learn more, then read on.
Navigate this review:
Black Shark Pro 5: Specs
|Specification||Black Shark 5 Pro|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Side-mounted fingerprint scanner|
|Front Camera(s)||16MP, f/2.45|
|Software||JoyUI 13 based on MIUI|
|Other Features||Shoulder triggers|
About this review: Black Shark sent us the Black Shark 5 Pro for review. The company did not have any input into the contents of this review.
Black Shark 5 Pro: Design
- Not an overly “gamer” look
- Camera barely protrudes
- Comfortable to hold
The Black Shark 5 Pro’s design can simply be described as “gamer” — though it’s not over-the-top like I’ve seen from some other gaming brands. It has a soft-touch glass on the back, with a small icon that lights up on the back. I expected that this would be usable as a notification LED (makes sense, right?) but that’s not the case. It doesn’t do a whole lot, though there are some settings in the software that you can modify to make it react to things like phone calls.
It’s a pretty thick phone, but it’s still comfortable to hold thanks to the rounded back edges. The camera doesn’t take up a huge amount of space either, nor does it protrude much, even though it packs a pretty large 108MP sensor. The display is also completely flat, with a single-centered punch-hole selfie camera.
Those shoulder triggers have to be mapped to touch inputs to be used in games, as games won’t recognize them as an official controller input. Nevertheless, they’re pretty cool, and it’s not too big of a deal to map them to your favorite games. It takes a bit of setup, but I’ve noticed in games like COD Mobile that it does make a difference, as in my case, I no longer need to claw my hands over the display to aim and shoot effectively. When not gaming, they can also be assigned other functions — for example, they will also take photos in the camera app by default.
For a gamer phone, the Black Shark 5 Pro doesn’t have a lot of unique gamer design, and that’s not really a bad thing. Companies like RedMagic have been known to go a bit overboard in that department, whereas the Black Shark 5 Pro can go unnoticed as just a normal smartphone.
For the display, the Black Shark 5 Pro packs a 1080p flat AMOLED screen that goes up to 144Hz. At first glance, it sounds like a bad thing that it’s full HD 1080p and not 1440p, but there’s a reason for that. Higher resolutions require more computational power, so gaming phones often pack 1080p displays to push as high of a frame rate as possible.
Black Shark 5 Pro: Gaming experience
- Good performance
- No thermal throttling makes for a very hot phone
- Should have waited for the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1
The “latest and greatest” chipset is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and that’s thanks to all of the problems that consumers have been facing with it. It runs quite hot, drains a lot of battery, and doesn’t offer a huge amount by way of performance improvements over the Snapdragon 888. The Black Shark 5 Pro makes the most of it though and does the best that it can, sometimes to its own detriment.
We ran a gamut of tests on the Black Shark 5 Pro, and while the results were impressive, they were also alarming. CPU Throttling Test raised the temperature of the device to dangerous levels, with heat dissipating through the shoulder triggers at much higher rates than the rest of the phone. The shoulder triggers began to hurt my fingers from the heat. CPU Throttling Test is an unrealistic CPU load to be put on a smartphone, but I ran into similar heating issues when playing The Simpsons: Hit & Run through AetherSX2.
The Black Shark 5 Pro packs top specifications though, and it gives the results to match. We also ran Geekbench 5 and 3DMark’s Wild Life test, and those results lined up with what we expected too. The phone heats up a lot, but that’s par for the course: both with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and with this being a gaming phone. We’d place more of the responsibility for that on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 than on Black Shark, although Black Shark did choose performance over throttling despite the heat.
Playing The Simpsons: Hit & Run was a pleasant experience, and the game runs near flawlessly. I played with a 2x internal resolution, and the game ran at more or less 60 FPS at all times. The phone heated up a lot, but the reduced thermal throttling was noticeable here as the game continued to run well despite the phone feeling like it was going to burn my fingers off. We measured the game’s performance with GameBench, and the results were as good as you’d expect.
To be honest, I can’t help but wonder if it would have been a smarter choice to dial up the thermal throttling just a little bit. An 83% thermal throttle is impressive, but it’s clear that the trade-offs are nigh-on dangerous. You can’t game on this phone intensively for a long time because it starts to hurt. Those temperatures probably aren’t safe for the phone’s battery, either.
The best part of the Black Shark 5 Pro when it comes to power and battery life is the fact that it supports bypass charging. Bypass charging means that your phone will run off of the charger, not using any battery, and not charging up your phone either. It generates less heat (something that is sorely needed with this phone, to be fair), and in theory, safeguards your battery as a result.
We would like to give special thanks to the team at GameBench for the tool they provided us. Their tool makes it possible for any person, whether it be a regular user, journalist, or engineer, to test a mobile game’s performance on an Android device.
Black Shark 5 Pro: Camera
Look, nobody is buying a gaming phone for its camera. If you want a phone that takes good photos and has all of the over-the-top gaming features you may have heard of, there’s practically nothing on the market. Having said that, the Black Shark 5 Pro’s camera gets the job done as a decently usable smartphone camera that you can use in a pinch. Though if you care about picture quality that much, it’s not beating any top camera phones by any stretch of the imagination.
For context, the Black Shark 5 Pro has a single 108MP primary camera, a 13MP ultra-wide camera, and a 5MP telephoto macro lens. That telephoto lens allows for actually useable macro shots, which is a plus over the 2MP macro cameras that manufacturers still to this day throw into phones.
Black Shark 5 Pro: JoyUI
The Black Shark 5 Pro runs JoyUI, the company’s own modification of MIUI. It looks the same and performs the same, with the same launcher, multi-tasking menu, and even the same control center when pulling down from the top right-hand side. It’s basically just a rebrand of MIUI with some green accents and a couple of hardware-specific features. That’s not a bad thing because I like MIUI, but it’s not a huge deviation from it whatsoever.
With JoyUI, you get all of the features that you’ve come to expect from MIUI. You get a fancy always-on display (with a ton of customization options), you get second space, and you get the quick ball if you’re into that. JoyUI is pretty heavy-handed in changes when compared to other Android variants, but to some, that’s a large part of its charm.
There are features here that integrate with the shoulder triggers though, and do it a whole lot better than I expected them to. For example, popping out a shoulder trigger and pressing it when the camera is open will take a photo, and you can enable them to do other things throughout the system, too. They’re not just for gaming, which I appreciated as I was worried that this was essentially just a gaming phone with no thought to the cohesiveness around the rest of the device.
Overall, it’s more of Xiaomi’s MIUI, with some additional features. I’m impressed by the level of thought that’s been put into making the shoulder triggers a valuable part of the user interface, though, rather than making them an afterthought.
To unlock your smartphone, the Black Shark 5 Pro supports both face unlock and a capacitive fingerprint sensor that’s inside of the power button. It’s almost certainly a bit of a cost-saving measure that there isn’t one in the display, but it’s no big deal really. It works well.
I know I already mentioned how good the speakers are, but it’s worth another moment to get across just how good they are. They’re loud — really loud — and are great for gaming. Black Shark did a great job here. I do need to point out the lack of a headphone jack though, as it’s an essential feature in a gaming phone. Bluetooth audio has latency, and it’s noticeable when gaming.
Battery life and charging
We touched on this already in the gaming experience section, but battery life really isn’t good. Bypass charging helps in the gaming area when you need to keep your phone powered, but the battery life you get out of the box isn’t great. Expect to get, maximum, five hours of screen on time, and it’s very likely you’ll get a lot less — especially when gaming. 120W charging is amazing when you need it and can charge this phone from 0% to 100% in 15 minutes, but it’s not always worth having super fast charging and then having terrible battery life. I’d personally rather have slower charging and a longer battery, especially because there are massively diminishing returns between 65W charging and 120W charging.
Bootloader unlocking, kernel sources, and software updates
You can unlock the bootloader of a Black Shark phone using Xiaomi’s MIUI unlock tool. It’s a bit of an involved process, though.
As for kernel sources, Black Shark basically never releases them. If you want to use custom ROMs or anything like that on your smartphone, this probably isn’t the phone to get. Software updates are also a bit hit or miss in that regard.
Should you buy the Black Shark 5 Pro?
The Black Shark 5 Pro offers a lot of good, but there are a lot of reasons to look elsewhere, too. The kernel source and update situation is particularly alarming, as companies are obligated under the GPL to release timely kernel sources. Some companies, such as OnePlus, have published kernel sources late but still typically always get to them at some point. Black Shark, however, just hasn’t released any kernel sources from the Black Shark 2 or newer.
Even aside from that, the phone itself heats up incredibly when gaming, to the point that I worry it can cause harm and injury. Between that, the lack of a headphone jack, and the battery life concerns, there’s just not a lot that Black Shark gets right for a gaming phone. The shoulder triggers are cool and work well, but that’s the only genuinely unique feature about this phone that you can’t really get anything like anywhere else.
As a result, if what you want is a gaming phone, it’s probably worth waiting to see what’s around the corner — particularly anything that may be powered by the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1. There are too many trade-offs here, and for €799, there’s probably much better on offer. I love the speakers, I love the shoulder triggers, but I’m really not a fan of anything else with this phone.